The American Red Cross is testing new coronavirus antibodies in all donated blood and will use the information to learn more about the spread of COVID-19,media The Verge reported. They will also return with donors to find out how long their antibodies last. If a new type of coronavirus antibody is present, they have been infected with the virus. Although testing on the market today is not perfect, many people are still interested in getting them — including those who think they have COVID-19 — but can’t get tested when they get sick.
Susan Stramer, vice president of scientific affairs for the American Red Cross, said one of the goals of the antibody testing program is to encourage more people to donate blood. The home order means that in the past few months, fewer blood donors have been than usual, and the supply has been low. Since antibody testing began on June 15, the organization’s blood donation appointments have increased by about 150 per cent.
When someone donates blood to the Red Cross, they agree to use their blood samples for research. Every month, thousands of people across the United States donate blood, providing the organization with a huge pool of blood samples to analyze. By testing all these samples for new coronavirus antibodies, the organization can also understand the extent of the virus’s spread.
“We collected 40 percent of the country’s blood supply, so we had a simple picture to answer the question of how many people were antibody-positive,” Stramer said. So far, over two weeks of data, about 1.2 percent of blood donors have new coronavirus antibodies.
The Red Cross will reach out to donors with antibodies and ask them if they are interested in participating in additional follow-up studies to test how their antibody levels may change over time. These antibodies may help protect people from reinfection, but there is still much research to be done. Researchers still don’t have a good idea of how long antibodies against the virus last in the body. Some preliminary data suggest that the new coronavirus antibodies may only last for a few months, especially in people who are asymptomatic when infected.
The study will be tested monthly to retest participants’ antibody levels. “We want as many people as possible to attend, but I think if we get more than 30 percent of the people, we’ll think it’s a success,” Stramer said.
The American Red Cross is also involved in a national antibody study with the support of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study will include multiple blood donation tissues and will be re-examined this fall and in 2021 for the proportion of people with new coronavirus antibodies. “It’s definitely the biggest serum survey I’ve ever been involved in,” Michael Busch, who led the work as director of the Vitalant Institute, told Science. Each of these surveys will include 50,000 blood samples.
These projects are similar but different in scope. “What we’re really going to do is go into the details of our donor and antibody duration, and the CDC program will look at what’s going on over time,” Stramer said.
For decades, blood donation centers have been using thousands of samples they have at their disposal for scientific research. In 1989, studies began through the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, concerned about the impact of HIV on the safety of blood transfusions. Since then, blood donations have helped scientists learn more about diseases such as Zika and West Nile virus.